On a recent fishing trip, I watched in horror as $1,200 worth of fly rod and reel flipped over the side and sank. It was then that I realized my fly-fishing habit was growing much too expensive. So I searched for the best value fly rod and reel that would get me back on the water for under $400, which-in the sticker-shock world of fly-fishing-qualifies as a steal. Here's a rod and reel combo that's worked well for me.
Temple Fork's TiCr four-piece 8-weight ($209; 800/638-9052, www.templeforkflyrods.com) is designed by the legendary Lefty Kreh. It offers an excellent balance of stiffness and smoothness, with the firepower to punch through the wind and enough sensitivity to feel light takes. Tangling with brutes like jacks and snook, it holds its own in the fight. TiCr stands for titanium-chromium, the materials used to give this rod stiffness and strength while maintaining light weight and casting ability. I've played with $500 rods that don't perform as well.
The Gold Cup III Large Arbor Saltwater Reel ($179; 800/227-7776, www.basspro.com) proves it's possible to find a reel under $200 that holds enough backing and has a decent drag system. It held 200 yards of 20-pound backing to go with the 8-weight floating line I put on, so there's plenty of string to sustain long runs. A sturdy machined-aluminum frame and carbon-fiber disc drag proved smooth and corrosion-free during testing. It's lightweight and well-balanced. However, this reel isn't as easy to take apart and reassemble as some premium reels, making it tough to change spools from floating to sinking lines on the go.